Why Soft Skills are Key in Your Frontend Interview

Interviewing for a frontend position is more than just meeting requirements, passing a coding challenge, and being “technically sound.” When interviewing, don’t neglect the soft skills, particularly if there are nontechnical members of the interview panel. Nontechnical team members have a seat at the hiring table and are paying close attention to characteristics that make working with someone an enjoyable, productive experience.

As one of the nontechnical members of an interview panel, I’ve seen countless candidates impress the smartest of engineers, but not get the thumbs up from the rest of the hiring committee. As a frontend engineer, you’ll have to collaborate with a diverse range of roles outside the engineering team. A holistic interview panel is looking for something more, a certain je ne sais quoi that makes a candidate a slam dunk hire.

I’m here to remind frontend developers that you are in the difficult position of impressing not only those in the technical interview panel but also those in nontechnical roles; the product managers, designers, and user researchers. Technical skills can be taught, but soft skills are difficult to develop in an employee. If you raise red flags (even unintentionally) that you’re missing these qualities, you can hurt your chances at an offer.

Above all, you’ll want to demonstrate that you have a have a growth mindset. In short, this means you have the capacity to develop your skill set and learn on the job. You can call out examples of this from previous roles, but your interaction with the panel will leave a more lasting impression. Here are four ways to demonstrate a growth mindset, not only during a frontend technical challenge but in any context.

If you get stuck, take the help

In all likelihood you’ll have to do a technical whiteboard challenge during the onsite interview, an often intimidating task. Remind yourself that it’s not about getting the right answer, but the process you take. If you get flustered, take a step back and look for an opportunity to simplify your approach or clarify the problem if needed. Your interviewer is usually there to help and is more interested in seeing how you deal with challenges.

Show how you think

Taking time to communicate what you’re thinking shows that you’re able to articulate your process. This is especially important for the nontechnical members of your interview panel. Stating your assumptions, no matter how obvious they may seem, not only gives context to your thought process but can also give the interviewers a chance to steer you towards the right answer.

Have an opinion

When you’ve reached an answer, recap the path you took to get there and explain how you landed on the solution. Be prepared to defend your stance and demonstrate confidence, even when acknowledging flaws, assumptions or weaknesses in your position. If you’re too deferential it may appear like you don’t really stand behind your own opinion.

Acknowledge better ideas

The interview panel wants to see how you evaluate different approaches and then land on a decision.  While you want to take a stance and be able to defend it, if it’s clear that a better alternative exists be willing to acknowledge it. Showing how you’d evaluate the tradeoffs between approaches demonstrates your ability to discuss and find a compromise, something you’ll have to do daily with nontechnical members of a team. Others have said to have strong opinions, held weakly and this absolutely applies both in the interview but especially on the job.

Preparing your growth mindset

The beauty of a “growth mindset” is that it’s not something you can nail in an afternoon: it takes practice over your entire career. With an upcoming interview, how do you embrace this philosophy?

Take an opportunity to practice some technical whiteboard challenges with your peers instead of just on your own. Ask them for feedback about how clearly you communicated your process. Get their honest perspective on your blind spots and your unique quirks in how you articulate abstract concepts. Their input can help you be more aware of your “communication hygiene” and can make you more aware and prepared to catch yourself during the interview.

Acknowledging your weaknesses, offering to restate something, or identifying that your audience may not have understood something you said can be subtle but powerful ways to show your interview panel that you’re soft skills are as sharp as your technical skills.

About the Author

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson is a startup founder and consultant in San Francisco and was previously a product manager at Compology and Airbnb. He loves helping companies of all stage prototype build new products. For fun, he manages San Francisco's casual carpool rideshare community.